A metal bin, fixed to a buried wooden 4×4, marked my first allowable outdoor distance.
My grandmother had a straight-shot view of the paved one-lane driveway from her kitchen, where she made lunch for her daily wards (5-15 grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other neighborly passerby’s).
“You can go outside, but don’t go past Calvin’s mailbox.” Music to my ears. I put in many an hour hovering around the perimeter of that mailbox’s force field. But seeing as the street didn’t end at this border, and there was at least 100 more yards of restricted territory to explore before the main road, I found that mailbox to be my adversary. I quietly broke free of the prison yard and explored the first 10, 20, 30 feet with the excitement of going farther than allowed. She caught me hundreds of times; but, I persisted. I strived to see how far I could go.
Then, I met Forrest, Forrest Gump; and he could run. Far. He ran out of his driveway; he ran past his bridge; then he ran all over the country. Sadly, this classic character did not catalyst my running journey, yet. My transportation of choice was a bicycle. For long, our bikes were landlocked to my grandmother’s street. When we turned twelve, my grandfather took up bicycling in his retirement. So, in one of the most influential moments of my life, he took us with him, wait for it, down the main road. And not just down the main road, he took us all over the community. To the big hills, to the creeks, to other neighborhoods, he even let us ride to a gas station! With every passing week, we went further, and further.
Eventually, we ventured out alone. And being boys, and a few tom-girls, we started testing our ability to go further. Eventually, we rode to every nearby city, “JUST TO SAY WE DID”. But not only to brag to others of where we had riden, but to tell ourselves of how far we’d gone. To test our ability of riding to places we had only visited in cars before. We once rode 30 miles to my other grandmother’s house, attempted to head home, ate too much at a burger king, threw up Whoppers on the blazing mid-July Georgia sidewalk, and then were forced to ride home with our bikes in the back of my grandmother’s mini-van.
That feeling of taking things as far as possible never left me. It has been the propelling force behind a sizable percentage of my choices. In my late teens and early twenties, we street luged. We rode as far as possible, labeling our riders by how fast they had gone and by the craziest hill they had ever bombed. We scoured the state searching for large hills to race down. Whenever we built things, they always had to be bigger and better, forever striving for the upgrade to our street luge boards, potato cannons, and homemade Nerf guns. I think that part of me is what makes me a man (minus the Nerf gun stuff), or my obsession came from watching too many episodes of Home Improvement. “More power!”
I once again face the unsatisfiable “why?”. For I know, if I see the finish line at the 35 mile race, training for the 50 miler will be on my mind, and the 100 miler after the 50, the perpetual adventure of asking “how far?”
My why is simple, to tell the story to myself and others of what I endured, or “to say that I did.” To use the accomplishment to remind myself in the hard times that it can be much harder and that I’ve conquered before and I will do it again, again, again. When I set out on that 35 mile race, I will remember that my story is not to be of a person with a DNF (Did Not Finish), but of someone who against pain, distance, and elevation (and snakes) didn’t give up, and all of it to see how far he could go before he puked up his veggie burger. 😉